The Crimson Field Episode 6, the finale

The Crimson Field has reached its end.

Did all those storylines get tidied up? No, even more themes are introduced: the brother of one of the orderlies is admitted with a self-inflicted burn. It’s not enough for a ‘Blighty one’ so the orderly breaks the lad’s leg with his bare hands. Nasty.

Who falls for whom? Joan and Anton meet again, he’s arrested, then proposes to her; it can’t work out well. Tom hears the truth about Kitty’s past, he’s not phased. They snog.

Rosalie has become a real nurse.

Who dies? Nice Roland’s soldier son, that’s who.

How many boxes of tissues were needed? None here but forests-full elsewhere no doubt.

Will there be a series two? (Think bears and forest here). Sister Quayle (with her shiny new Red Cross medal)  is going to continue being the bane of Matron’s life in the next series with her scheming and cake stealing; Roland may or may not stay in charge of the hospital; young Flora is starting to grow up. With three years of the war left (it’s October 1915), there is the possibility of several more series.

Pantomime baddie Sister Quayle will continue to cause problems for Matron Carter.

Pantomime baddie Sister Quayle will continue to cause problems for Matron Carter.

The major theme for the final episode is Joan’s crime of ‘consorting with the enemy’. The tagline for this show is ‘The hospital is thrown into disarray’ when an enquiry panel is hastily convened to decide whether she should be court martialled. Actually the ‘disarray’ is quite tame. But there’s a useful sentence or two about the hardships endured by Germans in Britain especially after the Lusitania was sunk in May 1915. I believe it was immensely difficult to speak up for the accused against military law as it stood in these cases. I’ve just read William Broderick’s gripping novel A Whispered Name, which deals with courts martial and seems to me to be a well-considered examination of the ordeal. So I don’t know how realistic this scene is (someone will hopefully enlighten me), but given the previous gaffs in the series, I’d like someone to verify.

I must just re-iterate how quiet it is on the Front! Will I be back for more? Maybe….

Sweet natured Colonel Brett rushes to defend Sister Joan Livesey as she is accused of aiding the enemy.

Sweet natured Colonel Brett rushes to defend Sister Joan Livesey as she is accused of aiding the enemy.


I thought I’d end this blog series with a selection of press reviews of The Crimson Field and a big thank you to everyone who has read each post:

‘It’s hard to conjure a real sense of fear for any of the characters, encased as they are in a world of starched linen and complicated love lives, separated entirely from the squalor and degradation of trench warfare’. Rose Buchanan in The Independent 4th May 2014. Read more at

‘Six million people watched the first episode. It’s possible that if it continues to win high ratings the BBC will be able to claim it as a success, but as one of the marquee productions of the Corporation’s year-long commemoration of the start of the First World War, it feels lacking in realism and gravitas. I expected better’. Chris Harvey in The Telegraph 13th April 2014. Read more at

‘Every now and then a programme reminds why telly is so great and The Crimson Field, as part of the BBC’s World War One centenary programming, has done just that and surprised me in just how good it’s been’. Kate Bellamy Metro Blog, 5th May 2014. Read more

I had been promised an ‘explosive’ episode of The Crimson Field from a couple of correspondents on social media, after I felt that this drama series had been a slow burner so far. This week there was a plethora of story strands to deal with, from the turmoil and uprising in Ireland to self-inflicted wounds of presumed cowards. WG_Sherborne in the Western Gazette, 21 April 2014.

‘There was a little bit of gore, but not enough to deter a mainstream audience. When a patient died, for instance, the camera cut to the nurse’s face as we heard him breathe his last. You need a stronger stomach to watch Call The Midwife, frankly. Realism was missing in another way, too, one that wasn’t obvious at first: it’s too quiet. There were men screaming, and orderlies shouting, and lorries rumbling, but there were no guns. So close to the front, the noise of artillery ought to have been constant. The big howitzers could be heard across the Channel in London when the wind was blowing in our direction’. Christopher Stevens in The Daily Mail, 7 April 2014.
Read more:

And finally…

‘If you are interested in a more warts-and-all view of field hospitals you could do well to look to The Backwash of War by Ellen La Motte. As Ellen herself wrote, ‘there are many people to tell you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side of war. I want to tell you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash. They are both true.’ Ellen was an American nurse who volunteered and served in a French field hospital ten miles behind the Belgian lines.  Her series of sketches were published initially in the Atlantic Monthly and later as a collection. They were banned at the time because of the effect they were considered to have on public morale, and they make harrowing reading’. The National Archives’ blog post by Sally Hughes. 28 April 2014. Read the blog at



The Crimson Field Episode 5

‘New woman’ Sister Joan is desperate to know the fate of her fiance. Image: BBC/Nick Wall.

Sister Joan’s (Suranne Jones) dangerous secret was revealed last week by Flora and then ruthlessly exploited by pantomime baddie Sister Quayle. It was announced to an assembly that Joan was engaged (ring spotted on chain round neck) , which forced her to make up a tale about her fiancé being in the British Army, when actually he’s a German. In my programme notes I had written ‘Interesting strand?’ Too hopeful! It sadly descended into an unbelievable plot involving what looked like resistance fighters as Joan desperately tries to make contact with her man. It’s basically a spy theme that might end up in Joan being shot as a traitor. What are the chances in the last episode?

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Joan is arrested and charged with a capital offence.

At last the focus turns to Matron Carter (Hermione Norris); she has been simmering away in the background doing good here and there and putting up with Sister Quayle’s jealousy over the promotion. This week’s incoming wounded introduces Colonel Ballard, an imperious, brusquely spoken officer from the Punjabi Rifles. They have a brief verbal spat, in Punjabi: ‘Well well well, she speaks Punjabi’ he sneers. Another strand, this time it’s the colonials! OK writers and producers give us a treat: please explore the empire line, as it were. It appears that Matron grew up in the Punjab and comes from a well-heeled family. That’s it really.


Matron Carter meets Colonel Ballard from the Punjabi Rifles.

This week we have our first splash of mud! It rains during this episode, quite a lot it seems as muddy puddles finally get their day in the spotlight. Posh, aloof Rosie Barratt is outed as a Rt. Hon. when a package addressed to her is spied on the post trolley. However, for whatever reason, (reader, there must be one, it is a constructed narrative after all) she trips in a muddy puddle and her glowing white apron becomes sullied. Nothing is made of this.

It’s all so QUIET as Bjork might say; there are few sounds of battle, which is odd when you consider that the rumblings of explosions could be heard frequently across the Channel in Kent and mentioned in various diaries, for example the Reverend Andrew Clarke, writing from Essex on July 1 1916: ‘All this morning the Flanders (as it is supposed) guns have been booming forth, making [the] house quiver at times and shaking window sashes. At 10am they made almost an uninterrupted roll of sound, like a long roll of distant thunder’. Now that is terrifying and feels real.

Flora (the prissy one with a gay brother) decides to raise morale by organising a concert party. I wonder if  in reality the YMCA might have done this as they were set up in pretty every location in the various theatres of war. Who can tell me more? But it gave the cast a good excuse to have a singalong, maybe to raise their morale as much as ours. Anyway, the last episode is next week and then I can go back to being a Sunday-night-drama avoider.


Let’s just remind ourselves of the real women involved in nursing behind the lines.

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Nurses at New Zealand Stationary Hospital, Wisques, France,, 1918. Image: New Zealand Archives, Reference: IA76 H905.